Having done Central Park on all other New York visits (and intending to do it again) I wanted to go somewhere new. The best place that I could easily get to using public transport seemed to be Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Long Island. It is quite close to JFK Airport.
I caught the 4-line Metro from Grand Central Station south to Fulton Street and changed to the A-line to Far Rockaway. The station I was aiming for for the one immediately after that for JFK, Broad Channel. The journey took about an hour and a half and cost $1.50 each way.
After leaving Broad Channel station I walked to the main road (Cross Bay Boulevard) and turned right (north) along it. Walking along the road I was effectively between two large bodies of water on an island. The walk to the reserve yielded such birds as Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Mourning Dove, Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Red-winged Blackbird and Yellow Warbler. Flyovers included Glossy Ibis (an ABA tick for me), Double-crested Cormorant, Snowy Egret and Laughing Gull.
After about half a mile I reached the reserve entrance and was greeted by a singing male Eastern Towhee. It was a hot and sunny day but I was there early so the visitor center was closed. I headed down a path that looked good and was soon seeing or hearing House Wren, Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher and Barn Swallow. A look over South Marsh added Black- and Yellow-crowned Night-herons, nesting Ospreys (on specially-built nesting platforms) and Willet. Continuing down the path I again had Song Sparrow, Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat plus Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher and numerous Tree Swallows using nesting boxes.
West Pond had many Mallards and quite a few American Black Ducks plus Common and Forster's Tern, Glossy Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Canada Goose and Gadwall. Great Egrets flew over as did more Glossy Ibises, Yellow-crowned Night-herons and a Tricolored Heron. A couple of American Oystercatchers were found as were American Crow and American Goldfinch.
After a short diversion towards the terrapin nesting area where I had only Tree Swallows and heard Willow Flycatchers (I heard quite a few empids but all were Willow Flys) I was back on the main trail and overlooking West Marsh. Here I heard what I was hoping to hear - a song reminiscent of a Red-winged Blackbird but quieter and different. Aiming at where the sound seemed to originate out on the marsh I located a greyish bird singing from the ground on a small ridge of reeds - it was my first ever Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Continuing on I reached North Marsh and headed into the more wooded area of North Garden. here I got my first Northern Cardinals of the trip plus a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and at least five singing male American Redstarts – very hard to see amongst the leafy branches but one showed quite well feeding on the path for a short while.
Back at the information center I added House Finches as they fed at a feeder station and then headed off towards South Garden, part of which I hadn't covered as I walked down from North Garden. It was quite quiet but I did see a female Scarlet Tanager, a young Wood Thrush, a lone Red-eyed Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee and, surprisingly since I subsequently discovered they seem to be unusual in this area, a flyover Reddish Egret.
Having done the main reserve I crossed over Cross Bay Boulevard aiming for Big John's Pond and East Pond. En route I had a nice pair of Eastern Towhees, a close Common Yellowthroat and a few Gray Catbirds.
At East Pond I found 95 Mute Swans and not much else. Viewing from the blind at Big John's Pond I had a male American Black Duck being chased off by a male Mallard, Eastern Kingbird and a pair of Green Herons.
Jamaica Bay is well worth a visit if you have a free day. I set off at about 5am and was back in Manhattan by 1pm.